At least "Operation Chokepoint" had been laid to rest temporarily, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri) said on Washington Watch Monday. The administration of former President Barack Obama – through use of Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) – instituted Operation Chokepoint, he told show host Tony Perkins. Under its authority, regulators would intimidate these institutions into releasing whatever information they wanted to know.
Now a newer version has taken government snooping through the banks to new heights – including requests for information on customers who purchased Bibles.
Under Obama "they would say something like, 'If you don't do this, we'll audit you again next week until you do this, or we really believe there's some reputational risk by what you're doing here.' So, they intimidated the banks into cutting off financial services to some folks that the regulators had a personal bias against," Luetkemeyer said.
These business and individuals "weren't doing something illegal. These entities were not illegal entities. They were good customers of the bank, sometimes with it for 25-plus years, but because of the personal bias that the regulators had, they went in and would intimidate banks into cutting off financial services for them," Luetkemeyer said.
Luetkemeyer, a former banker, serves on several House committees, including the Financial Services Committee, the Small Business Committee, and the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.
"I got in the middle of this. It was on the Financial Services Committee that it came under my subcommittee's jurisdiction. We stopped it during the Obama Administration. During the Trump Administration, they put a kibosh on this full force. However, with the Biden administration, they've come in and done this all over again."
If you bought your flannel at Bass Pro you could be in a database
Federal law enforcement agencies partnered with a number of financial institutions to flag transactions with terms like "MAGA," "Trump" and more, Fox News reported last week. The groups also monitored transactions with popular outdoor recreation retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods, Cabela's and Bass Pro.
Purchases linked to Bibles and other religious texts were also targeted in government efforts to prevent "extremism," Fox reported. According to Luetkemeyer, when it's not snooping, FinCEN has a legitimate purpose.
"Their job is to ferret out money laundering, illegal activities – and that's fine. There's a way to do that; it's called a search warrant. You go to court and verify that what you're trying to do is worthy of somebody's rights being taken from them. There is a good chance that they're (government) doing something illegal, but what they're doing right now is just automatically throwing out there with a blanket these words and these actions that they want done," Luetkemeyer said.
FinCEN encouraged financial institutions to look at transportation charges such as bus tickets, plane tickets and rental cars for travel to areas with no apparent purpose, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan wrote in a news release.
"FinCEN urged financial institutions to comb through the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges on the basis of protected political and religious expression," Jordan stated.
Jordan said committee investigators obtained documents showing that FinCEN distributed slides – prepared by a financial institution – explaining how institutions can use MCC codes to detect certain retailers with search phrases like "small arms" or "sporting and recreational goods and supplies."
According to Jordan, "regular" communication occurred between Biden administration staffer Noah Bishoff, a division-level director, and financial institutions in the days following Jan. 6, 2021.
"Despite these transactions having no apparent criminal nexus – and, in fact, relate to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights – FinCEN seems to have adopted a characterization of these Americans as potential threat actors," Jordan said.
Fox reported that government's request for information extends beyond the Jan. 6 demonstration at the U.S. Capitol.
How compliant institutions were is unclear
The ease with which most institutions released the information is unclear, but Luetkemeyer said a path exists to protect their clients. He told Perkins the FinCEN operated without "any jurisdiction whatsoever, no authority whatsoever.
"If I was a banker today, I would tell [an investigator], 'Go get a search warrant. I'll be glad to comply with it, but in the meantime, no, I'm not going to do it.'"
Luetkemeyer compared these revelations to how China's government operates.
"Communist China spends $300 billion a year … to surveil, detain, and build new detention camps for the people because they want to control them. They watch every single thing they do. They have a social score that if you don't score high enough you can't buy a new car, you can't go rent an apartment, you can't change houses, you can't change jobs.
"This is where they're headed with this nonsense, this overarching control of individuals and businesses – and FinCEN is another wing of their way to control people," he said.